Environment

  • U.S. power plants use more coal, bucking the trend toward natural gas

    Power plants in the United States are burning more coal to produce electricity, bucking the trend toward using natural gas, and in the process emitting more greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, a new government report says. Burning coal to produce electricity was popular just a few years ago, but hydraulic fracturing led to a natural gas boom, driving down gas prices and making natural gas more competitive with coal. The demand for natural gas got so high, however, that its price began to creep up at the same time that the price of coal dropped because of weakening demand for it.

  • Japan to restart nuclear power plants

    Japan’s fifty nuclear power plants were taken off-line in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, but the government Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which took office in December, said it was planning to restart Japan’s nuclear power generation program.

  • Assessing the social, economic effects of Deepwater Horizon spill

    Numerous studies are under way to determine the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on the Gulf of Mexico, but the extent and severity of these impacts and the value of the resulting losses cannot fully be measured without considering the goods and services provided by the Gulf, says a new report from the National Research Council (NRC). The report offers an approach that could establish a more comprehensive understanding of the impacts and help inform options for restoration activities.

  • Wildfires contribute more to global warming than previously thought

    Wildfires produce a witch’s brew of carbon-containing particles. A range of fine carbonaceous particles rising high into the air significantly degrade air quality, damaging human and wildlife health, and interacting with sunlight to affect climate.

  • Oil-devouring microbe communities a mile deep in the Gulf

    The Deepwater Horizon explosion on 20 April 2010, caused the largest marine oil spill in history, with several million barrels of crude oil released into the Gulf of Mexico over the course of three months. Soon after the spill began, a massive oil slick was visible from orbiting satellites, yet once the underwater gusher was sealed, obvious traces of the crude oil disappeared much sooner than nearly all observers predicted. Some of the oil evaporated; some was skimmed off. Microbes “ate” much of the oil as well.

  • Treating oil spills with chemical dispersants may do more damage than good

    Treating oil spills at sea with chemical dispersants is detrimental to European fisheries. Post-spill chemical dispersants may reduce problems for surface animals, but the increased contamination under the water reduces the ability for fish and other organisms to cope with subsequent environmental challenges.

  • Researchers highlight problem of legacy mercury in the environment

    Researchers have published evidence that significant reductions in mercury emissions will be necessary just to stabilize current levels of the toxic element in the environment. So much mercury persists in surface reservoirs (soil, air, and water) from past pollution, going back thousands of years, that it will continue to persist in the ocean and accumulate in fish for decades to centuries, they report.

  • U.S. geological carbon dioxide storage potential

    The United States has the potential to store a mean of 3,000 metric gigatons of carbon dioxide (CO2) in geologic basins throughout the country. Technically accessible storage resources are those that can be accessed using today’s technology and pressurization and injection techniques. The most common method of geologic carbon storage involves pressurizing CO2 gas into a liquid, and then injecting it into subsurface rock layers for long-term storage.

  • Increasing food production from existing farmland

    A policy known as sustainable intensification could help meet the challenges of increasing demands for food from a growing global population. The goal of sustainable intensification is to increase food production from existing farmland. Sustainable intensification would minimize the pressure on the environment in a world in which land, water, and energy are in short supply.

  • Research network to search for extraterrestrial intelligence launched in U.K.

    A network has been launched to promote academic research in the United Kingdom relating to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. The network brings together academics from eleven institutions across the country, and it covers a broad spectrum of research topics, including potential methods for detecting signals, the linguistic challenge of deciphering messages, the probability of an extraterrestrial civilization interacting with Earth, and the longevity of civilizations.

  • U.S. tax code has minimal effect on CO2, other greenhouse gas emissions

    Current federal tax provisions have minimal net effect on greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new report from the National Research Council. The report found that several existing tax subsidies have unexpected effects, and others yield little reduction in greenhouse gas emissions per dollar of revenue loss.

  • Life on Earth will end 2.8 billion years from now due to increasingly luminous Sun

    All species have finite lifetimes, with each eventually facing an event that leads to its extinction. . Ultimately, a combination of slow and rapid environmental changes will result in the extinction of all species on Earth, with the last inhabitants disappearing within 2.8 billion years from now. The main driver for these changes will be the Sun. As it ages over the next few billion years, the Sun will remain stable but become steadily more luminous, increasing the intensity of its heat felt on Earth and warming the planet to such an extent that the oceans evaporate.

  • El Nino unusually active in the late twentieth century: study

    Spawning droughts, floods, and other weather disturbances world-wide, the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) impacts the daily life of millions of people. During El Niño, Atlantic hurricane activity wanes and rainfall in Hawaii decreases while Pacific winter storms shift southward, elevating the risk of floods in California. The ability to forecast how ENSO will respond to global warming thus matters greatly to society.

  • Improving crop resilience, yields in a world of extreme weather

    Farmers in the United States witnessed record-breaking extremes in temperature and drought during the last two summers, causing worldwide increases in the costs of food, feed and fiber. Indeed, many climate scientists caution that extreme weather events resulting from climate change is the new normal for farmers in North America and elsewhere, requiring novel agricultural strategies to prevent crop losses. UC Riverside-led research team develops new chemical for improving crop drought tolerance.

  • Renewables to surpass gas by 2016 in the global power mix: IEA

    An International Energy Agency (IEA) report says power generation from hydro, wind, solar, and other renewable sources worldwide will exceed that from gas and be twice that from nuclear by 2016.